LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Former Lansing mayor Virg Bernero has settled a lawsuit with a woman who accused him of sexual harassment.
Elizabeth Hart filed a lawsuit against Bernero, her former boss, saying that he sexual harassed her and touched her inappropriately when she was an intern on his reelection campaign in 2013 and 2014.
The lawsuit began in June of this year and ended with Bernero having to pay $4,500 to Hart before legal fees, and give a negotiated apology.
Hart released the following statement:
“A form of justice was achieved through this lawsuit. I wanted acknowledgement that what he did was wrong and the lawsuit achieved a version of that. But
Virg was not held accountable for his actions. The settlement, in my opinion, is an
acknowledgement to what he believes happened, not to what happened. If anything, the lawsuit
gave me closure. Now the people of Lansing know my story, they know who I truly am now, not
what they believed back then if they knew me. I’ve heard the recording of Virg talking about me.
It did impact my decision to settle, because in my opinion from what I heard it was an admission
that he knew he was inappropriate with me, we have different feelings about what happened but
it added to the closure I needed.
I am relieved that it is over. The process was stressful and uncomfortable. In the end I lost
confidence and faith in my attorneys. I didn’t feel that they would fight for me after I spoke with
them about the settlement, it felt like they weren’t willing to fight for my interests anymore.
I don’t think Virg Bernero’s apology was a sincere apology to the trauma he caused. I think it
was an apology for himself so that it could all be over.
Through this process it became clear to me that the definition of sexual assault in state statuteElizabeth Hart
needs to be reexamined. Sexual assault is any unwanted touching. It shouldn’t be exclusive t
specific or certain areas of the body. I believe the assault that happened to me was sexual in
nature, he said to me right after he was stroking my foot that he had a foot fetish.
Lawsuits for survivors are traumatizing. I wasn’t comfortable with the questions they were asking
for the discovery and deposition portion of the process. I wish the process didn’t bring more
trauma to survivors, but I think in the end it makes us stronger individuals. We trusted ourselves
to know that what happened was wrong and we had the courage to talk/speak up about it, no
matter how long it took. I wish survivors didn’t have to go to the media to get another form of
justice, but I am grateful that the media is there to tell our stories, I’m especially thankful for how
the media in Lansing has shared my story.”
Hart says she came forward to share her story and receive justice.
Hart says she believes there must be a safer way for the legal system to respect survivors equally on all sides of a case, such as creating safe ways to report sexual violence.